Jo Jo Gray’s much-anticipated debut with the Tulsa Drillers on Thursday was more impressive than the box score indicates.
Gray was charged with three runs in 5⅓ innings and took the 4-2 loss against the Frisco RoughRiders before 4,388 fans at ONEOK Field.
“I know the (pitching) line may not look the best, but he pitched way better than the line shows,” Drillers manager Scott Hennessey said.
Gray, 21, was 7-0 with a 1.61 ERA in his last 10 starts at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga. He was acquired by the parent Los Angeles Dodgers last December in a seven-player trade with Cincinnati.
In his Double-A debut Thursday, the right-hander allowed five hits and one walk with four strikeouts, but all the damage came in the sixth inning.
“He definitely had life to his fastball and attacked hitters, so that was really good to see,” Hennessey said. “His changeup was really good, his breaking ball kind of came and went. I liked how he competed and the energy he brought.”
Gray breezed through the first five innings, allowing only one hit and a hit-by-pitch. Besides Andretty Cordero’s double in the second inning, the only other ball hard-hit ball against him was Michael De Leon’s deep drive that right fielder Logan Landon ran down to end the fifth.
However, it looked like the temperature that matched Gray’s 94 mph fastball caught up to him in the sixth.
”He was cruising, but it was hot out there and maybe he got a little tired,” Hennessey said. “He gave us everything he had and battled.”
Frisco’s Leody Taveras led off with a single, but was thrown out trying to steal second by catcher Connor Wong, who also was Gray’s batterymate at Rancho Cucamonga.
With one out, Yonny Hernandez drew a walk and advanced to third on a stolen base-wild pitch. Texas Rangers rehabbing catcher Isiah Kiner-Falefa singled home Hernandez.
Preston Beck’s single and Cordero’s infield hit loaded the bases, ending Gray’s night on the mound.
Yordy Cabrera was summoned from the bullpen and struck out Eliezer Alvarez, but Ryan Dorow followed with a two-run single. After Brendon Davis walked, Cabrera limited the deficit to 3-0 as he retired De Leon on a ground to strand the bases loaded.
Gray was outdueled by Frisco right-hander Tyler Phillips, who also started the season in Single-A after being named the 2018 Nolan Ryan Award winner as the top pitcher in the Texas Rangers farm system.
Phillips (3-7) allowed four hits and two runs in six-plus innings. He struck out three and didn’t allow a walk. Errol Robinson and Cristian Santana were the only Drillers (51-45 overall, 14-13 second half) who reached safely against him with two hits each.
Robinson led off the sixth with a 365-foot homer. Santana opened the seventh with a double and eventually scored on Keibert Ruiz’s one-out single off Walker Weickel, making it 3-2. But Frisco (43-52, 10-16) added a run in the eighth and its relievers combined to retire seven of the next eight batters to close out the game.
“We hit some balls hard in the first inning, but then Phillips settled down,” Hennessey said. “Obviously they like him and he’s a prospect. He did a good job. We just couldn’t get much going. Sometimes you have to tip your hat. He’s a good pitcher and they got us tonight.”